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NABOKOV, Vladimir

L’inconnue de la Seine

Urging on this life’s denouement,

loving nothing upon this earth,

I keep staring at the white mask

of your lifeless face.

Strings, vibrating and endlessly dying,

with the voice of your beauty call.

Amidst pale crowds of drowned young maidens

you’re the palest and sweetest of all.

In music at least linger with me!

Your lot was chary of bliss.

Oh, reply with posthumous half-smile

of your charmed gypsum lips!

Immobile and convex the eyelids.

Thickly matted the lashes. Reply—

can this be for ever, for ever?

Ah, the way they could glance, those eyes!

Touchingly frail young shoulders,

the black cross of a woolen shawl,

the streetlights, the wind, the night clouds,

the harsh river dappled with dark.

Who was he, I beseech you, tell me,

your mysterious seducer? Was he

some neighbor’s curly-locked nephew

of the loud tie and gold-capped tooth?

Or a client of star-dusted heavens,

friend of bottle, billiards, and dice,

the same sort of accursed man of pleasure

and bankrupt dreamer as I?

And right now, his whole body heaving,

he, like me, on the edge of his bed,

in a black world long empty, sits staring

at a white mask?